“Vote Like a Boy Scout” – Ted Streuli
I noticed two things last week as I stood amid the cardboard kiosks with my fellow voters from Precinct 064: The ballot is hard to read without glasses (thank goodness for the flashlight on my phone) and I don’t vote the way I think I vote. I vote like a Rotarian. Or maybe a Boy Scout.
Before I fed my ballot into the machine, I realized that I’d voted not down party lines but by personal knowledge and relationships. I didn’t vote by political resume, but by what I knew of the person and what sort of job I believed she’d do. To my surprise, I voted for more members of the opposing party than I did my own. I voted for a lot of Club 29 members, not because we belong to the same club but because I know them, and I think each will do a good job.
That seems quaintly bipartisan. But I remember Alan Simpson, a Republican from Wyoming who served from 1965-1977 in the Wyoming House of Representatives and from 1979-1997 in the U.S. Senate. He served as the Senate Republican Whip for a decade and was known for his considerable political influence, his dedication to fiscal responsibility and his opposition to the Citizens United ruling. Although Simpson left Congress in 1996, President Obama enlisted him in 2010 to co-chair the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
I also remember Norm Mineta, a California Democrat who was the mayor of San Jose in the early 1970s before being elected 10 times to the U.S House of Representatives. From 1975-1993 Mineta made a name for himself as a proponent of transportation funding and civil rights. He was the key author of the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which was the first major change to transportation policy since the onset of the interstate highway era. It also mandated the use of airbags in automobiles.
Mineta returned to Washington as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton and Secretary of Transportation under President George H.W. Bush. When he stepped down on July 7, 2006, he was the longest serving Secretary of Transportation since the position’s inception in 1967.
Not only was it surprising that Mineta, a Democrat, was a member of the Bush cabinet – again, quaintly bipartisan – it is also surprising that he and Simpson, a Republican in the other chamber and from another state, were close friends.
What might be less surprising is why. During World War II, Mineta, born in California to Japanese parents, was interned at Area 24, 7th Barrack, Unit B in the Heart Mountain Relocation Center near Ralston, Wyoming, about halfway between Cody and Powell. One of ten camps used for the internment of Japanese Americans evicted from the West Coast Exclusion Zone, Heart Mountain opened on Aug. 11, 1942 and operated until Nov. 10, 1945, housing 13,997 Japanese Americans. At its peak, Heart Mountain had 10,767 inhabitants, making it Wyoming’s third-largest city.
Mineta had worn his Cub Scout uniform on the train to the internment camp. As he told Boy’s Life magazine in 2002: “I was wearing my uniform because the government told all Scouts riding the train to do so. Only Scouts could move from one car to another. Some families were in separate cars, so we ran notes back and forth as messengers.”
There were no schools for the thousands of children at Heart Mountain, so the parents formed Boy Scout troops to keep them occupied. They invited nearby troops to join them inside the barbed-wire fences for a jamboree. All refused but one troop, the one happened to include Alan Simpson.
Paired by happenstance, the two hit it off. And years later when Simpson saw a small news story about Mineta’s election as mayor of San Jose, he initiated a correspondence.
The two men, from vastly different backgrounds and with opposing political loyalties, helped one another for many years in Washington. If that’s quaint, I’ll take it. I’m pretty sure it builds goodwill and better friendships, and I’m certain it’s beneficial to all concerned.